Remote Work is awesome. It is no doubt, the future of employment and for a good reason:
- It can solve environmental problems
- It opens up the access to suitable jobs for the people outside of a bigger city
- It’s just better for the human soul to avoid the trenches of office buildings all day, every day.
But it has downsides as well.
Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt has recently asked about Remote work problems and loneliness came up #1
It gets… lonely.
In my previous corporate life, I was working in an Open Space at Samsung Poland. The company was voted 3rd best employer five years in a row, and the office had everything that a millennial fresh-out-of-college developer could want. We had fresh fruit, great coffee, slick building with state of the art technology, beautiful view from the window…
In some ways, the modern office is a bit of an extension of college life. The scenery changes a bit, but you hop on from the student life to corporate existence without skipping a beat.
Most tasks in the corporate world are not that urgent or even necessary to perform, so we defer to our primal instincts: keeping up the relationships.
In our past, this served us exceptionally well. In case of a cheetah attack, people helped you if they liked you, so making them like you was vital.
The chance of a surprise cheetah attack in a Samsung office is very slim. There are Cheetos aplenty though. But our biology did not adapt. Keeping thriving relationships is not only the default, but it is also proven to be healthy both emotionally AND physically.
The gains people derived from face-to-face socializing endured even years later. The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.Source
But in this brave new world of Remote work, there is no office and no colleagues to socialize with.
There is no daily chit-chat by the coffee machine, no banter on the Open Space and no scooter race in the hallway. That may be the best for productivity, but the silence is deafening at times. Sure, we have Slack and memes and calls and all sorts of social glue that lets us keep sane, but we are a human and we need other humans.
While working from home, YOU are responsible for your socializing. Your employer will not supply you with a kindergarten full of bored peers to play with.
You have to bring your own friends.
How to deal with loneliness in remote work
Me and my fiancee have developed a set of tactics to deal with the loneliness of remote work. These improved our lives considerably, but we are still on the lookout for new ones.
I have a confession to make. I have a rolling calendar reminder to organize a party for my friends every two months. There is no birthday or another occasion, just a party. I would say, I have a 50% success rate, so in reality, the said bacchanalia gets thrown every four months, but it’s still a great way to remind your acquaintances of your existence.
Committing to a cycle has several benefits:
1 – Lower emotional stakes
Have you experienced a little bit of shame before reaching out to a friend you did not talk to for a while? Do you sometimes worry they will laugh at you when you finally DO reach out? I have this nagging feeling sometimes. But guess what. They probably feel the same, and you are just two proud dummies not talking to each other.
Reach out. It’s not a big deal. Only one party out of 10s you are going to organize.
2 – More significant chance you finally get to see some people
We’re all adults. Well you are, I’m just pretending. We have lots of responsibilities, and not everyone will be able to make it to your party. By the 4th time you invite someone, they may be able to make it. Go ahead, keep asking this childhood friend. Maybe she will come.
3 – You will get comfortable with this
You will not stress about having enough chairs (people can stand for 4 hours, nothing will happen to them). Your place will not have to be squeaky clean. The situation will be normal for you. You will develop a party-prep routine. I can throw the party in 2 hours, provided there are no dead bodies to hide lying in my living room.
Here is my tried and tested, patented Artpi Party Prep Scenario ™️.
- Dried tomato hummus
- Sweet Potato chili-sprinkled fries with garlic sauce
- Barbecue pulled-pork style Egglant
- Salmon-horseradish party wraps
- Home-made Coleslaw
- Greek-Style salad (arugula, feta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, honey-coated walnuts, vinaigrette sauce)
I can do this on autopilot. I do something else if I have energy, but having default makes it easier to commit.
Yes, I am a robot. I have three lists of people I should reach out to weekly / every month / every quarter.
I have a bot that will select a person from one of these lists every day. This is a custom solution, but you can achieve the same result by following fantastic Derek Sivers advice.
Reminder ensures I will remember about everyone. I do ignore them some of the time, but I still see value in refreshing the fact of someone’s existence. It’s nice to stop and remember that I have the person X in my life.
Being a part of the community
This societal problem is widespread and touches not only remote workers. You probably don’t feel this in an Open Space, but humans have a deep longing for long-lasting connections with people around them. We evolved in tribes and later settled into villages. Everything was communal.
Getting benefits of community without going insane require some planning. Currently, we are
- We’re renting out a coworking spot even though we have a perfectly fine home office. Our friends from WeWork Labs Warsaw are a constant source of funny stories
- Maria, my fiancee is a contributor to an amazing paper journal for young girls. More than writing, she enjoys interacting with the editors and creators of the magazine.
- Maria is also part of another, virtual group of people seeking the meaning of life. You should check out her post here.
- I am part of a “mastermind group” with Polish bloggers of Geekwork, To się opłaca, Wolni Zawodowo and Oskar Rak . We have calls every week and I am learning a lot from them.
- This blog, right here is an attempt to create a community 🙂
And I think that one of the most amazing things that anyone can go through and can do in their lives is a variation on the theme of going on a journey, doing hard things surrounded by friendsTobi Lutke, Shopify CEO
Organizing a wedding
Now, I’m only half joking. My fiancee and I are in the process of a fabulous adventure that is organizing a wedding. And we are inviting A LOT of family members. Some of which I have never heard of before. I don’t even think it’s possible to be related to so many people, but so be it.
The surprising part is that I enjoy getting to know them, giving them invites and nurturing those relationships. I can see myself in the son of a distant relative, and it’s very fulfilling and gives me a sense of belonging. If you told me five years ago that inviting 150+ people for an ultra expensive party would be in my future, I would laugh in your face.
But here I am, you can laugh at me.
The point is that these tested rituals served some purpose in the past. Weddings, Funerals, Equinox parties, Easters and Christmases – all of them were kind of a glue that holds people together in the face of loneliness.
Remote work is changing this balance, and we need to find new rituals and again take extra care to nurture a connection to people around us. New technology can help but let’s not forget about the tried-and-tested approach.
Call your mom once in a while. Yes, ON THE PHONE LIKE A CAVEMAN (cavewomen have probably already figured that out).
You have to be deliberate about reaching out to your friends and making time for them. They are busy too and nobody will organize this for you.
Bring them with you.